Recently I have heard teachers say, "It doesn't matter if we have technology or not, my students still don't care." - and I agree, the technology doesn't matter – but relevance does!
In education, the term relevance typically refers to learning experiences that are either directly applicable to the personal aspirations, interests, or cultural experiences of students (personal relevance) or that are connected in some way to real-world issues, problems, and contexts (life relevance). Source: edglossary.org/relevance/
New technology, while wonderful, is temporary. If you are counting on a device to supply continuous engagement, you are selling yourself and your students short.
Device technology isn't the thing – good pedagogy and relevance is!
So, how do we go about attracting and keeping the attention of our students as we design to bridge the blended learning gap?
First, while I am a big proponent of backward design and the power of the "enduring understanding," I understand that we can't get there without a hook. Just like the short riff or phrase at the beginning of a song that keeps you from changing the station, our lessons need something that signals to our students that this is new, different or worth hanging around for.
Breakouts (modeled after Escape Room experiences) offer an engaging classroom version of the Escape Room experience in which students work through a series of content related problems to get to a prize locked in a box with multiple locks. The scenarios turn learning on its head and students are asking questions of the teacher that they never would have asked in a traditional setting because they "want to get into that box."
In my experiences working with teachers using Breakouts I have witnessed: improved questioning strategies, vigorous rounds of trial and error, team work, communication, perseverance, applying past knowledge, managing impulsivity, and the stigma of failure in front of others melt away-all while pursuing an academic task. In short, the Habits of Mind were well represented!
Don't worry about students possessing all the requisite skills to complete a difficult task – give them the task and they will seek out the requisite skills. They will ask each other, they will ask you or they will figure it out. It's a win, win, win!
Dave Burgess of Teach Like A Pirate fame offers a great resource for teachers trying to find that illusive experience to "hook" their students into learning. Teach Like A Pirate Hooks offers seven categories of hooks, each with multiple examples to get your students prepared, active and engaged in the learning process. Warning: It may require you to make a fool of yourself on occasion, but you will be a fool for engaged learning!
When connecting your classroom to the larger world and worrying about the technology, your students, and the experience – there is tension. By facilitating and modeling the process for teachers and staying in the room for troubleshooting, teachers have started to venture out on their own into the world of Skype.
This semester alone, teachers have connected locally (classroom to classroom), with Holocaust survivors at the National Holocaust Memorial Museum, world renowned authors, internationally with engineering students in Europe, and with me at the local WalMart (we needed wifi)!.
Finally, these relevance and engagement strategies don't have to be new. I love starting the school year with some "Orchestrated Chaos" by placing students in a real-world simulation on the first day of school. While the rest of my colleagues were handing out books and covering "the rules and procedures," I was handing out envelopes to my students containing items that made our classroom represent the world in terms of education, hunger, homelessness, and wealth. From day one, while sitting on the floor and watching others eat and count money, they knew this class was going to be different – and guess whose classroom they talked about at home on that first night.
Do you have a special talent that you can share with your students? I played my guitar and sang a song for my students. The song was content related and I let them know upfront that we would be singing the song again soon, only they would be writing new lyrics and singing based on what they had learned. The dread was palpable – but the message was clear and they never disappointed.
As we travel this path of digital learning design, there will always be remnants of the past, but we cannot cling to that past with so many possibilities in front of us. The resources of the world are already available to our students and we have a major role in making them accessible and teaching students how to construct their own learning with those resources. Whether the setting is traditional, technological, blended, or well-worn – it will still need a hook!
Today's post comes to us from Mr. Tim Arnold. Tim is in his first year as an eLearning Specialist with the Richmond Community schools. Prior to that, he spent 26 years as a social studies teacher, coach, and educational leader at Nettle Creek Schools in Hagerstown. Tim curates a nationally recognized technology and learning blog and was selected as a top ten educator in the State of Indiana in 2008. Tim and his wife Julie, a “rock-star” 6th grade science teacher, are graduates of Indiana University (BS ‘90) and Ball State University (MA ‘97) and have two college age children, Kelsie and Nick.